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Small objects make big impact

Posted on May 20, 2020 at 5:00 PM by Adrienne Gennett

2019 was quite a good year for University Museums for many reasons, from new staff members to finally reopening the renovated Brunnier Art Museum, but it was also a year that included wonderful donations of art from some of the Museums’ greatest supporters and friends. Several of the most interesting and key donations to the permanent collection, at least in the eyes of this curator, were several examples of 20th century studio pottery made by some of the important teachers and potters within the movement. Specifically a narrow necked vase by Marguerite Wildenhain, along with a bowl and vase by Otto and Viveka Heino. These donations are incredibly important as University Museums works to develop and grow the permanent collection in contemporary craft and the 20th century movements that led to the amazing work being done in glass, ceramics, wood turning, and more. 

Marguerite Wildenhain (French-American, 1896-1985) studied ceramics at the Bauhaus in Germany, one of the best-known design schools of the early 20th century. After five years she was considered a master potter and embarked on a career as both a teacher and designer for dinnerware. When the Nazi party came to power in Germany in 1933, she was forced to stop teaching, and being of Jewish ancestry, she chose to leave the country and moved to Holland where she opened a pottery studio with her husband. In 1940, with the impacts of WWII looming ever closer, she left Europe and emigrated to the United States. She began teaching at different arts and design institutions and in 1942 ended up near Guerneville, California, the place she would call home for the rest of her life. Working with like-minded owners of a large ranch named Pond Farm, they and a group of artists developed an artist colony and pottery studio. By 1960, she was the only remaining original artist working there, but she kept up the summer courses and built an institution where potters from all over came to learn from her and each other. One of those was Dean Schwarz, an Iowa potter from Decorah who was the focus of a previous social media post. Wildenhain used her experience at the Bauhaus to inform her style of teaching, which focused on technical training and understanding of the ceramic medium. 

Otto and Viveka Heino, a husband and wife team that made pottery together for 45 years, were important teachers, makers, and key figures in the changing world of ceramics and studio pottery in the 20th century. Drafted into the army with the onset of WWII, Otto (American, 1915-2009) spent his time stationed in Europe and was able to take art classes and visit some important potteries, such as that of Bernard Leach in England. Using the GI Bill when he returned, Otto studied ceramics in New Hampshire, where he was taught by Viveka whom he would later marry. Viveka (American, 1910-1995) first trained to be a teacher, but art was her passion. She studied art in Colorado and then moved to California, where she began working with ceramics. Viveka went on to obtain her MA at Alfred University in NY, where she was the second master’s graduate in the ceramics program. After marrying, the couple moved to California and Viveka taught ceramics for several years before moving back east where she taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and the New England College, while Otto continued to run his own pottery studio. They returned to Ojai, California to buy the studio of their friend Beatrice Potter (an incredibly important potter in her own right). Back in California, they focused on their studio work and together prolifically created pottery that would bear both of their names. They were extremely knowledgeable on the various bodies of clay and glazing techniques, knowledge which they readily shared, along with both being technically masterful throwers primarily producing functional pottery. Their incredible skills and great willingness to teach others created a legacy in 20th century ceramics that makers and curators alike continue to honor and reference.

The Wildenhain vase was donated to the Museums by Marlene and Gary Olson, who both have impeccable taste as collectors. Maureen ran and owned the Olson-Larson Gallery (Valley Junction, IA) for many years, honing her eye for artistic talent and beautiful objects, while Gary is an accomplished artist. Their donations to University Museums of the art they have collected throughout their lives is always thoughtful, considering how the art can fit within and grow the permanent collection. The bowl and vase made by the Heino’s was donated by Ingrid Lilligren, the very recently former chair of the Arts and Visual Culture department at Iowa State, ceramics professor, and ceramicist. Lilligren, like the Olson’s, has donated works of art from her personal collection throughout the years with an eye to what is needed to further our contemporary pottery and craft collection. These three objects are wonderful additions to the permanent collection, makers who were not previously represented within the collection, and who further our mission to represent important artists in media such as ceramics and glass in the Museums growing contemporary craft collection. University Museums collections continue to expand through the thoughtful donations of our donors, whose art is used to fulfill the Museums’ mission to include art in the education of students and enrich the lives of everyone on the Iowa State campus.

TOP LEFT: Vase, c. 1975, Marguerite Wildenhain (1896-1985). Stoneware. Gift of Gary and Marlene Olson. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2019.265

BOTTOM LEFT: Bowl, mid to late 20thcentury, Otto Heino (1915-2009) and Viveka Heino (1910-1995). Stoneware. Gift of Ingrid Lilligren. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2019.234

BOTTOM RIGHT: Vase, mid to late 20thcentury, Otto Heino (1915-2009) and Viveka Heino (1910-1995). Stoneware. Gift of Ingrid Lilligren. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2019.235

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